We continue our countdown of the 15 most memorable moments in Crew Stadium history based on voting from the Massive staff. Join the discussion on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using the hashtag #MRStadium.
It was a game that took place nearly two weeks after the Columbus Crew’s former ownership group announced plans to move the team to Austin, Texas. A cloud hovered over the Crew, who finished in fifth place in the Eastern Conference with 54 points and was dealt a high-intensity fixture against second-seeded New York City FC in the first round of the MLS Cup playoffs.
The playoffs began for Columbus on Oct. 31, 2017. Prior to the tie-defining first leg, the Black & Gold had held their own against one of the league’s newest expansion sides on home soil with a 1-1-2 record in four matches. Despite City’s position in the standings that year, a mere three points separated the two sides and the Crew on an 11-match unbeaten streak heading into the conference semifinals, including a knockout round victory against Atlanta United in a penalty shootout only five days before.
The match, ending in a 4-1 Columbus victory, had a little bit of it all. From world-class goals to golden opportunities missed and just about everything in between, it truly was an instant classic not only in the history of the Crew but the MLS Cup playoffs as well.
With Anthony Precourt, the man attempting to move the team from Columbus, forced to watch on from the south end of the stadium while the Nordecke hurled insulting chants in his direction, the match began. The Black & Gold opened the scoring in only the sixth minute when winger Pedro Santos pickpocketed defender Rodney Wallace at the edge of the penalty box to find playmaker Federico Higuain 12 yards from goal. After his shot was brilliantly saved by NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson, forward Ola Kamara was there to tap in the rebound for an early 1-0 advantage.
Columbus stayed on the front foot for a majority of the first half and nearly doubled the team’s lead in the 32nd minute when a shot from distance by Santos was pushed back into the path of Justin Meram. The winger had an open net but saw his shot sail well over the crossbar.
City should have equalized moments later after a lazy pass by Kamara was intercepted at midfield by David Villa. The Spanish striker was able to break through the Black & Gold’s backline and get a one-on-one opportunity versus goalkeeper Zack Steffen. Villa’s rocket from just inside the penalty box rattled off the post and the match remained 1-0 going into halftime.
After a high elbow on Meram during a corner kick only minutes into the second half, Alexander Callens received a red card for violent conduct and NYCFC was down to 10 men for the remainder of the fixture. Callens was also suspended for the second leg a week later.
Not long after, Brazilian midfielder Artur put his stamp on the game by scoring his first career goal with Columbus to give the home side a 2-0 lead in the 58th minute. In the 69th minute, Meram redeemed himself after a Johnson error to extend the Crew’s lead to 3-0.
Some of the joy soon left historic Crew Stadium when Villa got one back for the traveling side. His 180-degree turn, half-volleyed effort beat Steffen at the near post to give the visitors an important away goal in the 78th minute. Suddenly, it looked as if the tie was not going to be as one-sided as the scoreline had suggested.
All that changed late into stoppage time, when one of the most special goals in the history of Crew Stadium. In the 93rd minute, defender Harrison Afful, who had only three goals previously in his Black & Gold career (all coming in the 2016 regular season) provided a moment of magic that would go down in club folklore.
“Instead, it’s Harrison Afful now. He’s gone through the center Afful! What a run! What, a GOAL! Oh, it’s fabulous!”
That was the call made by ESPN’s Adrian Healey when the Crew defender received a pass at the edge of the penalty box from Meram before beating a staggering five City defenders and slotting the ball past Johnson for a 4-1 lead.
The Black & Gold went on, despite losing 2-0 away in the second leg, to beat NYCFC 4-3 on aggregate and move on to face Toronto FC in the Eastern Conference Finals.
This match was the first in front of the Columbus faithful after the initial relocation announcement had been made. Chants of, “We’re not done yet,” by the Nordecke and fans from all over serenaded Crew Stadium after the victory. The game was nothing short of spectacular and would go down as one of the greatest club-defining moments in advance of the Save The Crew movement.
Read Massive Report’s previous Crew Stadium Moments